I can breathe clearly now, the smoke is gone

In a shock to smokers and anti-smoking advocates alike, Ireland’s government has announced a ban on smoking in pubs, effective January 2004.

This is, from what I understand, a first throughout all of Europe. Indeed, I selfishly wish other European countries that I frequent (such as Germany and Sweden) would join Ireland in banning smoking in public places, because I’m sick of having to deal with it while having a pint with friends. The sustained ickiness of eating in a smoker-friendly restaurant was made all the more clear to me when I had a scrumptious six course meal in Paris with friends last summer. I was surrounded by historic ambience and beautiful women… only to have the experience largely tainted by the intense smell and taste of smoke over the course of an otherwise pleasant three hours.

Of course, I’m rather spoiled here in California, which banned smoking in all public places (including bars and restaurants) years ago. But to me, the restrictions — whether mandated by law or by the establishment owners themselves — make perfect sense.

Can you imagine a world in which it was legal for people to walk by and spit in your food? Or for someone to grab you by the neck and stick your face 10 inches from their car exhaust pipe (while the car was running)? Didn’t think so.

Why, then, do people find it a violation of THEIR rights when they’re required not to smoke in public? I realize that there’s a long history associated with smoking, but hey… folks didn’t think anything ill of slavery for many centuries either. Luckily, we evolved.

Beyond the whole public-courtesy and legal issues, I still am perplexed as to how — in a modern country like Ireland — 30% of the people still smoke! Indeed, throughout my European travels, I’ve been both amazed and saddened to meet so many amazingly articulate, intelligent, and attractive people… who think nothing of lighting up a cigarette. True, a few did at least grimly acknowledge or even apologize for their “nasty habit,” but others smoked with a nonchalance that one might have while straightening a tie or looking at a watch. Just part of everyday life for them, ho hum.

I consider myself libertarian on many issues and ultimately, I would have preferred for the free market to stomp out smoking… making it inconvenient, unwanted, uncool. Sometimes, however, the free market is apparently impervious to common sense, common decency, and even critical behavioral changes that would add billions of dollars to the nation’s GNP. It is times like those in which I must reluctantly but appreciatively applaud lawmakers for making choices that society is too short-sighted to make itself.



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What do you think?